Monday, April 28

Instant replay

It occurred to me this morning that the Cavs' current first-round series against the Bullets is really quite a lot like their second-round affair with the New Jersey Nets in last year's postseason. The Bullets aren't exactly the same sort of team as the Nets, though both were built around a few stars who have been around the block for a while: the Nets with Kidd, Carter, and Jefferson and the Bullets with Arenas, Butler, and Jamison. The games thus far have unfolded quite similarly, a trend that Cavs fans should hope does not continue.

The Cavs took 2-0 series leads in both cases by winning the first two contests on their home floor. In Game 1 both years, solid defense led the Cavs to close victories, while both Games 2 were won handily by the Wine and Gold (more so this season, of course).

Taking to the road for Game 3 was rough on the Cavs in both series and in both cases allowed the other club to pull the series to 2-1. New Jersey dominated the Cavs in the Meadowlands behind a strong effort from Jason Kidd, while the Bullets destroyed Cleveland by 36 points (!) behind a strong effort by the entire Cavalier roster in not bothering to show up for the game.

In 2007 and 2008 the Cavs took commanding 3-1 series leads in the pivotal Game 4, escaping from the other club's building with narrow wins. Last year, Cleveland got 30 points from LeBron and lockdown team defense to go home with an 87-85 victory and a comfortable series lead; yesterday, Delonte West's 3-pointer gave the Cavs their final margin of victory and allowed them to return to Cleveland with the same 3-1 advantage heading into Game 5.

It is here that I wish for the Cavaliers to deviate from their 2007 form and chart some new territory. They came out in Game 5 last year as flat as possible and simply played horribly, scoring a laughable 72 points and losing by 11 despite holding the Nets to, I'm not making this up, 6 points in the 4th quarter (the Cavs, for their part, netted all of 13). With a chance to close out the series and rest before heading to Detroit, the Cavs played their least inspired basketball of the entire postseason and let the Nets creep back into the series. Granted, the Cavs took Game 6 behind the hot shooting of Donyell Marshall (a lot can change in a year, no?), but that still doesn't excuse such a poor effort in the previous contest.

Which brings us to the Cavs' closeout game this Wednesday against Terrence Howard's DC squad. If the Cavs have indeed matured as a playoff-tested team, if LeBron's leadership and playing skills have progressed, and if Mike Brown has learned to motivate and strategize to take advantage of situations like these, expect the Cavs to take care of business and advance to a likely showdown with the Boston Celtics. If the Cavs haven't improved as a team since last season and think they can just come out and just roll over the Bullets like they thought they could with New Jersey last season, it's going to be a long evening at the Q on Wednesday.

Call it optimism, but I think the club has learned their lesson, and I look for improved focus and effort on Wednesday and expect the Cavs, a superior basketball team, to play the smart, defensive-minded basketball (plus a healthy dose of LeBron and Z at the other end) that wins them playoff games and dispatch the Bullets for the third straight season.


Andy said...

I've been thinking the exact same thing. Hopefully the Cavs have finally learned to go for the jugular.

dave said...

Andy, I'm a little confused. Why are you posting a comment on your own blog entry agreeing with yourself?

Nick said...

Good point, Dave. That was actually my comment. Don't know how I'm posting as "Andy," unless he's somehow been assimilated into my collective.

Andy said...

I thought maybe we had a new reader with the same name as me.